Robinson rejects strip-search compromise

A report which could end the protest by republican prisoners at Maghaberry jail has been shelved, it has emerged.

The document, commissioned by Six-County Justice Minister David Ford, lays out a clear way of ending the confrontation between republican prisoners and the prison authorities.

However, the deal to end the ongoing prison protest was vetoed by the DUP. First Minister Peter Robinson said his office could not be seen to be negotiating with dissident republicans, according to the Irish News.

Republicans have pointed to the overt hypocrisy of Robinson’s position after his party met the unionist paramilitary UVF last month to discuss that organisation’s demands for cash and impunity. The meeting followed the UVF’s armed assault on the nationalist Short Strand community in east Belfast last month.

A group of republican prisoners, who are locked in their cells 23-hours a day, are engaged in a dirty protest in the manner of the ‘blanketmen’ of the 1970’s and early 1980’s. They are throwing their urine and excrement onto prison landings and refusing to shave or cut their hair.

Relations between prisoners and authorities at Maghaberry have dramatically deteriorated in the past year over the issue of forced strip-searching.

However, the main recommendation of the report - given to Mr Ford last October - indicates the confrontation could be swiftly resolved. New technology - whereby prisoners are searched with scanners and then sit in an x-ray-type machine called a BOSS chair - could bring peace to the jail, the authors suggest.

The report’s authors said they were trying to create a “win-win” situation with neither the authorities nor prisoners losing face.

Notably, while all 32 republican prisoners completed questionnaires distributed by the authors, only two warders did so.

The Stormont Justice Department has refused to comment specifically on why Mr Ford hadn’t implemented the report’s main recommendation.

Ex-IRA prisoner Alec McCrory of the ‘Maghaberry Family and Friends’ group said: “If the report on David Ford’s desk was implemented and the second BOSS chair installed, the prisoners’ protest would end.

“These recommendations come from establishment figures and highly-respected trade unionists. It’s a way out for everybody. The prisoners accept the prison wants to ensure security at the jail.

“In the spirit of the agreement, if the BOSS chair indicated something wrong, or if a prison officer had intelligence a prisoner was concealing an item, then that prisoner would consent to be strip-searched.”


Meanwhile a former political prisoner whose release licence was revoked is to face questions from the Parole Commission over two days at Maghaberry jail due to his critical illness.

Brendan Lillis, who is now receiving food through a tube into his stomach due to a crippling and progressive disease, is incapable of answering the questions, according to his partner. Roisin Lynch, who is leading the campaign for his release, said he is in severe pain and “doesn’t know who he is”.

Mr Lillis is the subject of a growing international human rights effort to end the cruelty and secure his release and appropriate medical care. He is to be brought before the Parole Commission on a stretcher on the 18th and 19th of July for 15 minutes each day. The meetings will seek to ascertain his suitability for parole.

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© 2011 Irish Republican News